Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium


This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.


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E.g., 07/21/2024
E.g., 07/21/2024

The petitioner appealed from his impaired driving conviction on the basis that the State violated the Fourth Amendment by withdrawing his blood while he was unconscious without a warrant following his arrest for impaired driving. A Wisconsin state statute permits such blood draws. The Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the petitioner’s convictions, though no single opinion from that court commanded a majority, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide “[w]hether a statute authorizing a blood draw from an unconscious motorist provides an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.”  

Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Breyer and Justice Kavanaugh announced the judgment of the court and wrote the plurality opinion. The plurality noted at the outset that the Court’s opinions approving the general concept of implied consent laws did not rest on the idea that such laws create actual consent to the searches they authorize, but instead approved defining elements of such statutory schemes after evaluating constitutional claims in light of laws developed over the years to combat drunk driving. The plurality noted that the Court had previously determined that an officer may withdraw blood from an impaired driving suspect without a warrant if the facts of a particular case establish exigent circumstances. Missouri v.McNeely, 569 U.S. 141 (2013); Schmerber v. California, 384 U. S. 757, 765 (1966). While the natural dissipation of alcohol is insufficient by itself to create per se exigency in impaired driving cases, exigent circumstances may exist when that natural metabolic process is combined with other pressing police duties (such as the need to address issues resulting from a car accident) such that the further delay necessitated by a warrant application risks the destruction of evidence. The plurality reasoned that in impaired driving cases involving unconscious drivers, the need for a blood test is compelling and the officer’s duty to attend to more pressing needs involving health or safety (such as the need to transport an unconscious suspect to a hospital for treatment) may leave the officer no time to obtain a warrant. Thus, the plurality determined that when an officer has probable cause to believe a person has committed an impaired driving offense and the person’s unconsciousness or stupor requires him to be taken to the hospital before a breath test may be performed, the State may almost always order a warrantless blood test to measure the driver’s blood alcohol concentration without offending the Fourth Amendment. The plurality did not rule out that in an unusual case, a defendant could show that his or her blood would not have been withdrawn had the State not sought blood alcohol concentration information and that a warrant application would not have interfered with other pressing needs or duties. The plurality remanded the case because the petitioner had no opportunity to make such a showing.

Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment only, writing separately to advocate for overruling Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141 (2013), in favor of a rule that the dissipation of alcohol creates an exigency in every impaired driving case that excuses the need for a warrant. 

Justice Sotomayer, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan, dissented, reasoning that the Court already had established that there is no categorical exigency exception for blood draws in impaired driving cases, although exigent circumstances might justify a warrantless blood draw on the facts of a particular case. The dissent noted that in light of that precedent, Wisconsin’s primary argument was always that the petitioner consented to the blood draw through the State’s implied-consent law. Certiorari review was granted on the issue of whether this law provided an exception to the warrant requirement. The dissent criticized the plurality for resting its analysis on the issue of exigency, an issue it said Wisconsin had affirmatively waived.

Justice Gorsuch dissented by separate opinion, arguing that the Court had declined to answer the question presented, instead upholding Wisconsin’s implied consent law on an entirely different ground, namely the exigent circumstances doctrine. 

In three consolidated cases the Court held that while a warrantless breath test of a motorist lawfully arrested for drunk driving is permissible as a search incident to arrest, a warrantless blood draw is not. It concluded: “Because breath tests are significantly less intrusive than blood tests and in most cases amply serve law enforcement interests, we conclude that a breath test, but not a blood test, may be administered as a search incident to a lawful arrest for drunk driving. As in all cases involving reasonable searches incident to arrest, a warrant is not needed in this situation.” Having found that the search incident to arrest doctrine does not justify the warrantless taking of a blood sample, the Court turned to the argument that blood tests are justified based on the driver’s legally implied consent to submit to them. In this respect it concluded: “motorists cannot be deemed to have consented to submit to a blood test on pain of committing a criminal offense.”

The defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated by the taking of a DNA cheek swab as part of booking procedures. When the defendant was arrested in April 2009 for menacing a group of people with a shotgun and charged in state court with assault, he was processed for detention in custody at a central booking facility. Booking personnel used a cheek swab to take the DNA sample from him pursuant to the Maryland DNA Collection Act (Maryland Act). His DNA record was uploaded into the Maryland DNA database and his profile matched a DNA sample from a 2003 unsolved rape case. He was subsequently charged and convicted in the rape case. He challenged the conviction arguing that the Maryland Act violated the Fourth Amendment. The Maryland appellate court agreed. The Supreme Court reversed. The Court began by noting that using a buccal swab on the inner tissues of a person’s cheek to obtain a DNA sample was a search. The Court noted that a determination of the reasonableness of the search requires a weighing of “the promotion of legitimate governmental interests” against “the degree to which [the search] intrudes upon an individual’s privacy.” It found that “[i]n the balance of reasonableness . . . , the Court must give great weight both to the significant government interest at stake in the identification of arrestees and to the unmatched potential of DNA identification to serve that interest.” The Court noted in particular the superiority of DNA identification over fingerprint and photographic identification. Addressing privacy issues, the Court found that “the intrusion of a cheek swab to obtain a DNA sample is a minimal one.” It noted that a gentle rub along the inside of the cheek does not break the skin and involves virtually no risk, trauma, or pain. And, distinguishing special needs searches, the Court noted: “Once an individual has been arrested on probable cause for a dangerous offense that may require detention before trial . . . his or her expectations of privacy and freedom from police scrutiny are reduced. DNA identification like that at issue here thus does not require consideration of any unique needs that would be required to justify searching the average citizen.” The Court further determined that the processing of the defendant’s DNA was not unconstitutional. The information obtained does not reveal genetic traits or private medical information; testing is solely for the purpose of identification. Additionally, the Maryland Act protects against further invasions of privacy, by for example limiting use to identification. It concluded:

In light of the context of a valid arrest supported by probable cause respondent’s expectations of privacy were not offended by the minor intrusion of a brief swab of his cheeks. By contrast, that same context of arrest gives rise to significant state interests in identifying respondent not only so that the proper name can be attached to his charges but also so that the criminal justice system can make informed decisions concerning pretrial custody. Upon these considerations the Court concludes that DNA identification of arrestees is a reasonable search that can be considered part of a routine booking procedure. When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. 

State v. Romano, 369 N.C. 678 (June 9, 2017)

The court held, in this DWI case, that in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Birchfield v. North Dakota (search incident to arrest doctrine does not justify the warrantless taking of a blood sample; as to the argument that the blood tests at issue were justified based on the driver’s legally implied consent to submit to them, the Court concluded: “motorists cannot be deemed to have consented to submit to a blood test on pain of committing a criminal offense”), and Missouri v. McNeely (natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant; exigency must be determined on a case-by-case basis), G.S. 20-16.2(b) (allowing blood draw from an unconscious person) was unconstitutional as applied to defendant because it permitted a warrantless search that violates the Fourth Amendment. An officer, relying on G.S. 20-16.2(b), took possession of the defendant’s blood from a treating nurse while the defendant was unconscious without first obtaining a warrant. The court rejected the State’s implied consent argument: that because the case involved an implied consent offense, by driving on the road, the defendant consented to having his blood drawn for a blood test and never withdrew this statutorily implied consent before the blood draw. It continued:

Here there is no dispute that the officer did not get a warrant and that there were no exigent circumstances. Regarding consent, the State’s argument was based solely on N.C.G.S. § 20-16.2(b) as a per se exception to the warrant requirement. To be sure, the implied-consent statute, as well as a person’s decision to drive on public roads, are factors to consider when analyzing whether a suspect has consented to a blood draw, but the statute alone does not create a per se exception to the warrant requirement. The State did not present any other evidence of consent or argue that under the totality of the circumstances defendant consented to a blood draw. Therefore, the State did not carry its burden of proving voluntary consent. As such, the trial court correctly suppressed the blood evidence and any subsequent testing of the blood that was obtained without a warrant.

In this Buncombe County case, defendant appealed his convictions for driving while impaired and reckless driving, arguing (1) there was insufficient evidence that he was driving the vehicle, and (2) error in denying his motion to suppress the results of a warrantless blood draw. The Court of Appeals majority found no error. 

In November of 2014, a trooper responded to a single vehicle accident and found a heavily damaged pickup truck against a steel fence off the side of the road. Defendant was inside the vehicle, unconscious and seriously injured. The trooper noticed the smell of alcohol and open beer cans in the vehicle. Defendant was the owner of the wrecked vehicle and there were no other people at the scene of the accident. At the hospital, the trooper ordered a warrantless blood draw. The results of this blood draw were that defendant was intoxicated, and these results were admitted at trial. The jury subsequently convicted defendant of drunk driving solely on the grounds that his blood alcohol level was above the legal limit under G.S. 20-138.1(a)(2).  

The Court of Appeals first considered (1), noting that admitting opinion testimony from the trooper that defendant was operating the vehicle was improper, as the trooper did not observe defendant actually drive the pickup truck. The court explained this was not reversible error because the trial court provided a curative instruction to the jury, directing them to disregard the trooper’s testimony that defendant was the driver. The court found that sufficient evidence beyond the trooper’s testimony supported finding that defendant was the driver, justifying denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss. 

Considering (2), the court explained that exigent circumstances supporting a warrantless blood draw almost always exist where a defendant is unconscious and being taken to a hospital. In Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 139 S. Ct. 2525 (2019), the Supreme Court’s plurality held that normally law enforcement may order a warrantless blood draw when the suspect is unconscious and taken to a hospital for treatment, but that the defendant must have an opportunity to argue the lack of exigency and show an “unusual case” that would require a warrant. Slip Op. at 8. Here, the court found that defendant had such an opportunity, and found no error in admitting the results of the blood draw. 

Judge Tyson concurred in the judgment on (1), but dissented by separate opinion regarding (2), disagreeing with the majority’s application of Mitchell and the admission of the results obtained through the warrantless blood draw. 

The defendant was found guilty by a Cleveland County jury of impaired driving and resisting a public officer and was found responsible for possession of open container. He appealed, challenging the denial of his motion to dismiss, the denial of his mid-trial motion to suppress, an evidentiary ruling, and alleging constitutional violations for lost evidence. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed.

(1) The defendant claimed there was insufficient evidence that he operated the vehicle while impaired. As to operation, the defendant was found asleep behind the wheel with the car running in the middle of the road and had a bottle of vodka between his legs. No passengers were present, and the defendant asked the officer if he could move the car, revving the engine several times. He also used the driver side door to exit the vehicle. This was sufficient to establish operation. “An individual who is asleep behind the wheel of a car with the engine running is in actual physical control of the car, thus driving the car within the meaning of the statute.”  As to impairment, while the defendant’s blood alcohol content was only 0.07, the defendant’s blood revealed the presence of marijuana, amphetamine and methamphetamine. In addition to the blood test, the defendant “failed” horizontal and vertical gaze nystagmus tests, refused a breath test, had a strong odor of alcohol, was “confused and disoriented,” and exhibited other signs of impairment. This was sufficient evidence of impairment.

The defendant also claimed there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for resisting a public officer. Specifically, he argued that he was merely confused and in pain at the time of his interactions with the officers, and that this was the cause of his “negative interactions” with the officers. The court rejected this argument, noting: “The conduct proscribed under [N.C. Gen. Stat. §] 14-223 is not limited to resisting an arrest but includes any resistance, delay, or obstruction of an officer in discharge of his duties.” Here, the defendant committed multiple acts that obstructed the officer’s duties. The defendant would not roll down his window when asked by the officer, he repeatedly tried to start his car after being commanded to stop, he refused a breath test at least 10 times, and repeatedly put his hands in his pockets during the nystagmus testing after being instructed not to do so. He also refused to get into the patrol car once arrested and refused to voluntarily allow his blood to be drawn after a search warrant for it was obtained. In the court’s words:

Through these actions and his inactions, Defendant directly opposed the officers in their efforts to discharge their investigative duties of identifying him, speaking with him, and performing field sobriety tests. Thus, Defendant resisted the officers within the meaning of the statute.

The motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence of resisting a public officer was therefore properly denied.

The defendant also claimed his motion to dismiss for insufficiency as to the possession of open container of alcohol should have been granted. He pointed out that the bottle found in his car was not missing much alcohol and the officer admitted to emptying the bottle on the side of the road. Rejecting this argument, the court observed:

[T]he amount of alcohol missing from the container is irrelevant for purposes of this offense, because a contained is opened ‘[i]f the seal on [the] container of alcoholic beverages has been broken.’ Additionally, the fact that [the officer] poured out the contents of the container goes to the weight of the evidence, not its sufficiency.

The trial court therefore did not err in denying the motion for insufficient evidence for this offense.

(2) As to the suppression motion, the issue was preserved despite the motion being untimely because the court considered and ruled on the motion. The defendant argued that the forcible blood draw violated his rights to be free to unreasonable force. He did not challenge the validity of the search warrant authorizing the blood draw. Claims of excessive force are evaluated under the Fourth Amendment reasonableness standard. Graham v. Conner, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). “Determining whether the force used to effect a particular seizure is ‘reasonable’ under the Fourth Amendment requires a careful balancing of ‘the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests’ against the countervailing governmental interests at stake.” Id. at 22 (citations omitted). Here, the officer had a valid warrant (obtained after the defendant’s repeated refusals to provide a breath sample), and the blood draw was performed by medical professionals at a hospital. Any acts of force by police to obtain the blood sample were the result of the defendant’s own resistance. The court observed:

Defendant had no right to resist the execution of a search warrant, and in fact, his actions rose to the level of criminal conduct under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-223, for resisting a public officer. . . Defendant ‘cannot resist a lawful warrant and be rewarded with the exclusion of the evidence.’

The force used to effectuate the blood draw was reasonable under the circumstances and did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The defendant also argued that his motion to suppress should have been granted for failure of the State to show that his blood was drawn by a qualified professional. G.S. 20-139.1(c) provides that doctor, registered nurse, EMT, or other qualified person shall take the blood sample. “An officer’s trial testimony regarding the qualifications of the person who withdrew the blood is sufficient evidence of the person’s qualifications.” Here, the officer testified that a nurse drew the blood, although he could not identify her by name and no other proof of her qualifications was admitted.  This was sufficient evidence that the blood was drawn by qualified person, and this argument was rejected.

(3) The trial court admitted into evidence the bottle found between the defendant’s legs at the time of arrest. According to the defendant, this was an abuse of discretion because the officers admitted to destroying the content of the bottle (by pouring it out) before trial. The defendant argued this was prejudicial and required a new trial. Because the defendant offered no authority that admission of the bottle into evidence was error, this argument was treated as abandoned and not considered.

(4) During the arrest, the stopping officer forgot to turn on his body camera and only began recording the investigation mid-way through. The officer also failed to record interactions with the defendant during processing after arrest in violation of department policy. The trial court found no constitutional violation. The defendant complained on appeal that the “intentional suppression” of this camera footage violated his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and sought dismissal or a new trial. However, the defendant only argued the Fourteenth Amendment Brady violation on appeal. His Sixth Amendment argument was therefore abandoned and waived.

As to the alleged Brady violation, the defendant did not seek dismissal in the trial court. “We are therefore precluded from reviewing the denial of any such motion, and Defendant’s request that this Court ‘dismiss the prosecution against him’ is itself dismissed.” However, the defendant’s argument at suppression that the failure to record the blood draw violated due process and warranted suppression was preserved. Under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), suppression of material evidence relevant to guilt or punishment violates due process, regardless of the government’s good or bad faith. Here though, there was no evidence that the State suppressed anything—the video footage was simply not created. Brady rights apply to materials within the possession of the State. “Defendant essentially asks this Court to extend Brady’s holding to include evidence not collected by an officer, which we decline to do.” There was also no indication that the video footage would have been helpful to the defendant. The court therefore rejected this claim. “Although the officers’ failure to record the interaction violated departmental policy, such violation did not amount to a denial of Defendant’s due process rights under Brady in this case.”

In this impaired driving case the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress where exigent circumstances supported a warrantless blood draw. The defendant tested at .10 on a roadside test, was arrested at 2:48 AM and then was transported to the police department, where he arrived 18 minutes later. When the defendant refused to comply with further testing within 2 to 3 minutes after arriving at the police department, the detective decided to compel a blood test. The closest hospital was approximately 4 miles away from the police department and 8 miles from the magistrate’s office. The detective read the defendant his rights regarding the blood draw at the hospital at 3:24 AM and waited for the defendant to finish making a phone call before starting the blood draw at 3:55 AM. The detective testified that based on the information he had at the time, he thought the defendant was close to a blood alcohol level of .08. The detective further indicated that he thought it would have taken an additional hour to an hour and half to get a search warrant. The detective was the only officer on the scene and would have had to wait for another officer to arrive before he could travel to the magistrate to get the search warrant. The trial court’s finding regarding the detective’s reasonable belief that the delay would result in the dissipation of alcohol in the defendant’s blood was supported by competent evidence. Thus, the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the blood draw.

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